General Stanley McChrystal's kamikaze interview had the desired effect. He was sacked and replaced by his boss General David Petraeus. But behind the drama in Washington is a war gone badly wrong and no amount of sweet talk can hide this fact. The loathing for Holbrooke (a Clinton creature) goes deep not because of his personal defects, of which there are many, but because his attempt to dump Karzai without a serious replacement angered the generals. Aware that the war is unwinnable, they were not prepared to see Karzai fall: without a Pashtun point man in the country the collapse might reach Saigon proportions. All the generals are aware that the stalemate is not easy to break, but desirous of building reputations and careers and experimenting with new weapons and new strategies (real war games are always appealing to the military provided the risks are small) they have obeyed orders despite disagreements with each other and the politicians.
Last summer, General Stanley McChrystal described US operations in Afghanistan as a 'retail war'. Now, thanks to Michael Hastings's notorious profile of the general in Rolling Stone, it's clearer what McChrystal meant: the conflict isn't only about winning over Afghans to the US cause, but also about selling a war that can't be won to increasingly sceptical Americans.